Soused herring… for school dinner?

I think the herring is probably my favourite fish, and I love it anyway it’s cooked, fried, kippered, bloater’ed, roll-mopped or soused… but i know it isn’t as popular today as it used to be, particularly among people who don’t like bony fish, because it does have an awful lot of bones, an awful lot of tiny, fine stick in the back of your throat bones.

I have my mother-in-law’s school kitchen cookery book because she used to be the head of a school kitchen, and I’ve inherited her recipes. There are lots of nice and interesting recipes, but what is more interesting is the sort of meals which were cooked for children in the 1950’s and 60’s; all the recipes are cooked from scratch, by cooks, not made in some factory and brought into schools to be heated or microwaved. There would be women (no men in school kitchens, or not very many) peeling potatoes, chopping meat, making puddings from flour, butter, sugar, eggs and fruit… it would be like a home kitchen on a scale for a family of a hundred or more.

I came across a recipe for soused herrings in the book which actually did surprise me, because even in the 50’s and 60’s I would have thought there would be a lot of children who wouldn’t eat them. I guess they were cheap in those days, nutritious,full of Omega 3 and fatty acids, minerals and protein, and easy to prepare in the sense that once they were made they could just sit pickling away to themselves with no lat minute heating, and ready to serve when ever the dinner bell rang.

The recipe just couldn’t be simpler… here it is for 100 portions:

  • 100 boned herrings
  • 4 pt vinegar and 4 pt water
  • salt
  • bay leaves
  • pepper corns
  • cloves
  1. wash and trim the herring
  2. sprinkle with salt and roll up from head to tail
  3. pack closely in tins with tails uppermost and pour over the vinegar and water
  4. add bay leaves, cloves and peppercorns
  5. bake in a moderate oven for ¾ hour
  6. serve cold with salad

Once again, this is a humble, home dish, a typically British dish, and despite what so many food writers think and say about dull badly cooked British food before such writers as Elizabeth David published her books, there are herbs and spices in the recipe – a recipe intended for children.

There’s never been anything wrong with British cookery, its only problem has been the food snobs who attacked it after the war when our country was struggling for so many reasons… OK, I’m off my hobby-horse, enjoy your herring!


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